The photo wooed me first: Burnished chicken pieces peeking from among bright orange clementines, their edges slightly charred and caramelized.
The ingredients confounded me: Almost half a cup (1/2 cup!) of licorice liqueur and copious amounts of brown sugar, grainy mustard and citrus juices.
Dinner would be either a smashing success … or a colossal failure.
It isn’t often I follow a recipe step-by-step and word-for-word, but this one — from the Middle Eastern cookbook Jerusalem — was just odd enough to demand adherence. A 3-pound chicken is cut into pieces and tossed with fennel and clementine slices. Everything marinates a few hours in that sugar/liqueur/citrus/mustard concoction, then gets roasted at searingly high heat for almost an hour.
The end product is scrumptious. (Hear my sigh of relief.) The liqueur underscores the fennel flavor of the dish yet is surprisingly subtle, considering the large amount used. The oranges are soft enough that they can be eaten rind and all. The chicken is slightly sweet, slightly tangy. The fennel is caramel-y and tender, yet it retains its shape and texture.
I’ll make this dish again. Its vibrant colors and use of seasonal fruit and vegetables make it a perfect holiday entree. And now that I know its flavor profile, I can play with it all I like:
* I can sub boneless chicken breasts or halved Cornish game hens for the chicken pieces.
* I can reduce the marinade and use it for a sauce on tuna, sword fish or salmon.
* I can swap out the fennel and scatter chunks of carrots and parsnips around the meat.
* I can omit the meat entirely and turn this into a hearty vegetarian dish by marinating fennel, potatoes and other root vegetables in the marinade, then roasting them at high heat.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. In our house, it’s worth dinner, too.
Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak (Jerusalem)
In a small bowl, whisk together 6 1/2 tablespoons arak, ouzo, Pernod or anisette liqueur, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons orange juice, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, 2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper.
Trim 2 fennel bulbs and cut each into 8 wedges. Slice 4 unpeeled clementines into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut 1 3-pound chicken into 8 pieces.
Place fennel, clementines and chicken into a large bowl. Pour marinade over and toss with your hands until everything is nicely coated. Cover bowl and marinate in refrigerator. (You can marinate this overnight or mix it together in the morning and let it hang out all day. You can also skip the marinating process and go straight to roasting if time is an issue, although I doubt you’ll get the same deep flavor.)
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Pour the contents of the bowl into a large roasting pan, making sure everything is in one layer and the chicken is skin-side up. Roast for 45-50 minutes, rotating the pan from back to front halfway through cooking.
Remove from oven. Place chicken, fennel and clementines on a serving platter. Pour marinade into a small saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Pour over meat, fruit and vegetables, and serve.